Cuban Rap Band Kamankola’s First Album

Osmel Almaguer

Jorge Lian Garcia

HAVANA TIMES — Before it’s outlawed, music and talent will continue to find ways to reach us. Before it’s outlawed, Cuba’s Kamankola project – created and led by rapper Jorge Lian Garcia – will continue to bring us irreverent pieces. “Before It’s Outlawed” is precisely the title with which Lian has christened his first record.

Thanks to the support of the Hermanos Saiz Association (AHS), Kamankola recorded the album in Havana’s EGREM studios in the months of January and February 2013.

I recall I interviewed Lian when he was preparing a demo titled Musas Desechables (“Disposable Muses”), a work that would bring him a good measure of success, his first concert at the Madriguera, a cultural venue in Havana, and the Best Spoken Word Song award at the Puños Arriba Festival.

In his interview for Havana Times, Lian struck me as a young man full of dreams, burdened by the harshness of reality and the obstacles that tend to stand in one’s way on undertaking a project of this nature.

“Before It’s Outlawed” is infused with the same anti-establishment spirit we saw in “Disposable Muses.” The main differences stem from Lian’s creative maturity, which becomes particularly evident in the lyrics of the new songs.

Another element of importance in this new album are the guest artists. The production saw the participation of vocalist and lead singer of the Cuban band Buena Fe Israel Rojas (as executive producer), Vicente A. Trigo and Yibran Rivero, from the duo DCoraSon (as album producers), Eme Alfonso and Samuel Aguila (as guest artists) and Adolfo (Fito) Martinez (as sound mixer and masterization expert).

The album includes twelve songs: Las tiras de la momia (“The Mummy’s Bandages”), Antes que lo prohíban (“Before it’s Outlawed”), Sigo haciéndote el amor (“I Still Make Love to You”), Los centinelas me fusilan (“The Sentries Execute Me”), La ponina (“Potlach”), Molotera y cañona (“Rowdy Crowd”), Peregrino horizontal (“Horizontal Pilgrim”, featuring Samuel Aguila), Con la lengua afuera (“With My Tongue Out”), El oleaje de tus piernas (“The Waves of Your Legs”), Sangre (“Blood”), Pa’ que se forme (“Gettin’ It Started”) and A pico de botella (“Knocking Back the Booze”).

The combination of rap, Arabic music, folk traditions, rock, Cuban timba, funk, bossa nova, pop, rumba and blues makes for an exquisite musical brew which is not only fresh but can attract the most diverse audiences.

Below are some of my comments on the best numbers in the album.

Las tiras de la momia touches on the history of humanity, summarizing it with universal feelings such as love, with instincts such as egotism and phenomena such as violence. Amazingly, Lian uses danceable rhythms: timba fused with Arab melodies.

Antes que lo prohíban, the album title song, portrays the spirituality of those human beings who continue to regard the world through the lens of beauty and are happy with what they have (the sky, the sea, their own eyes), people who set out to be happy before the monster of civilization destroys those things as well, to make love, before it is also forbidden.

In Sigo haciéndote el amor, the issue of love-making comes up again, but in something of a Machiavellian light. As the lyrics go at one point, “I have an empty stomach, but, even so, I continue to make love to you.” The singer asks his lover to bleed next to him and speaks about the harsh reality they live in to hard rock tempo.

Is La ponina a funk music, rock or rap song? Perhaps an interesting fusion of the three? I am inclined to think the latter. Havana is dying and Jorge Lian is collecting money to buy it a last breathe. A “ponina”, in Cuba, is the practice of pitching in money, usually to buy a bottle of rum. Between refrains, Lian raps the oft-repeated story of a Cuban who leaves the country, leaving behind family and country. The music and lyrics combine into a perfect mixture of pain and intensity that ultimately ruin one of the best songs in the album.

Peregrino horizontal is one of the most complete pieces in the album. Lian teams up with Samuel Aguila to produce a highly poetic reflection on love infused with romanticism. A surprise twist at the end of the piece leaves us wondering whether the addressee of the sugary woos is actually a woman.

“This is Cuba, shit and self-employment, that is, not much work and a lot of hell, that is, sweat away, bitch, so that tourists can have a ball and we can go on with our tongues out” – thus goes the refrain of the song Con la lengua afuera, a mix of funk music, rumba, rap and rock which requires no further comments.  

Kamankola has a live performance on Thursday March 27 at the theater of the National Fine Arts Museum in Old Havana at 7:00 p.m.